The Dallas Cowboys' offense did not look good Sunday. There's no ifs, ands or buts about it. The 'Boys had 232 yards of total offense (138 passing, 94 rushing) in their loss to Carolina, with almost every part of the unit looking underwhelming.
Let's journey back a second to when Dak Prescott took over under center for an injured Tony Romo in 2016. Dallas made a conscious effort to protect its young quarterback by feeding the ball to first-round draft pick Ezekiel Elliott on the ground. That season, Zeke was the guy, and there was no doubt who the offense was going through. The result: a record-setting season by the rookie duo that helped the Cowboys finish fifth in overall offense and second in rushing. Prescott threw 23 touchdown passes to just four picks and completed 67.8 percent of this throws, while Zeke fell just short of Eric Dickerson's rookie rushing record.
Two seasons later, the offense is more "Dak-friendly" and has gotten away from Zeke. This is the biggest mistake the Cowboys could make in terms of the offense, and we saw the repercussions over the weekend. Dak finished 19-of-29 passing for 170 yards and no TDs and was sacked six times. Even without center Travis Frederick -- who was recently diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome -- in the mix, Dallas still has an above-average offensive line that is very capable of spearheading a dynamic run game. You just have to commit to it. In the first half, the Cowboys ran the ball seven(!) times. That is absurd to me. I don't care if the defense loads the box every down to stop Zeke, he's the kind of back who can handle it. LaDainian Tomlinson and Adrian Peterson ran against loaded boxes their entire careers and were still very successful. Instead, the Cowboys chose to throw in most of those situations, feeding into Carolina's defensive plan. And honestly, if the game plan vs. Dallas is as easy as putting one more guy into the box to force Dak to make a play, it's going to be a long year in Big D.
A defense that lines up in 1-on-1 coverage on the outside and loads the box is a quarterback's dream. In that case, the quarterback and pass catchers line up and play catch. With the loss of Jason Witten and Dez Bryant in the offseason, it's apparent that the chemistry, and maybe even the talent level, isn't quite there in the pass game. According to Next Gen Stats, only Cole Beasley (3.33) and Geoff Swaim (3.96) averaged more than 3 yards of separation when targeted for the Cowboys, while Terrance Williams (2.34), Allen Hurns (2.12) and Deonte Thompson (2.02) all posted marks well below the league average (2.75). That said, there were several times when Dak did have an opportunity to make a play but, not trusting his throw or the receiver, instead decided to tuck the ball and run -- or when he flat-out made a poor pass. For example: With 1:33 left in the third quarter, Beasley was open in the middle of the field, but Dak didn't pull the trigger, tucking the ball and fumbling on a strip sack. A quarterback can't afford to make numerous poor decisions in the NFL, and Dak had several Sunday.
The fix is relatively simple. Don't abandon the run game because the defensive coverage dictates a pass play. Just feed Zeke.
Entering the 2018 NFL season, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr takes a look at all offensive players and ranks his top 15. For the first quarter of the season, the rankings are based on a combination of:
1) Player accomplishments prior to the 2018 season.
2) Weekly performances, while considering strength of opponent.
Rankings will be solely judged on this season's efforts following Week 4. With Week 1 already in the books, here is Carr's list:
Sunday night's performance against the Bears was THE GREATEST game I've ever seen from a quarterback standpoint. Rodgers had his biggest strength -- his mobility and ability to extend plays -- taken away due to the knee injury he suffered in the first half, and he still orchestrated a lofty comeback. The 39-yard touchdown pass to Geronimo Allison in the back of the end zone would have been impressive with Rodgers at full health -- but he couldn't plant his left leg on the throw. His ability to execute that play is unbelievable.
Gurley was part of the MVP conversation last year. On Monday, he picked up where he left off as he wore down the Raiders' defense. His 147 scrimmage yards (108 rushing, 39 receiving) gave him a total of 2,240 scrimmage yards since the start of the 2017 season, leading all players in the category. Considering how creative Sean McVay is with his All-Pro back, it seems Gurley's certainly poised for another huge year.
Though the Saints' defense royally struggled, the 2017 Offensive Rookie of the Year rolled right along. His greatest contribution came in the pass game -- no surprise here -- as he finished with 112 receiving yards and a score on nine receptions and added two rushing TDs. Even without his counterpart in the backfield ( Mark Ingram is serving out a four-game suspension), Kamara is still proving to be a matchup nightmare.
The league receiving yards leader from a year ago proved why he was just that with a superb touchdown reception in the second half against Cleveland. The cornerback was plastered all over him and did everything right. AB is just that good.
The Patriots' receiving corps has been a question mark this offseason. But as long as Gronk is healthy, it doesn't really matter who lines up outside. The four-time All-Pro had seven receptions for 123 yards and a score. It was his 76th touchdown catch from Brady; the pair ranks fifth all time among QB-pass catcher duos with the most TDs.
This dude was everywhere on Sunday. EVERYWHERE. The Chiefs' not-so-secret weapon put up a career-high 268 all-purpose yards in the season opener. Hill dazzled in all facets of the game, from his 91-yard punt return to his seven catches for 169 yards and two touchdowns on eight targets. I expect to see more peace signs thrown up in the future.
It was good to see OBJ back out there, as his presence makes a world of difference in Big Blue's offense. Finishing with 11 receptions for 111 receiving yards on 15 targets, he more than held his own against the league's top CB tandem from a year ago.
Not sure many expected the Seahawks to do anything against Denver's defense, but Wilson is the reason why they were still in the game at the end. He's losing weapons by the minute, but I'll never count him out.
The Saints are known for putting up monster number on offense, and Sunday's divisional bout with Tampa was no different. Despite the loss, Brees put on a clinic, completing 37 of 45 passes for 439 yards, three touchdowns and a 129.5 passer rating. Even at 39 years old, Brees still has the juice.
In my opinion, Diggs has proven that he's the best route runner in the league within the past year. He was tested out of the gate with Richard Sherman lining up on the other side of the ball. And though Sherman isn't as technically sound as he once was, he's still mentally sharp and -- there's no question about it -- a CB1. Diggs got after Sherman with double moves and precise movements. After a while, I found myself just watching Diggs -- who had three catches for 43 yards and a receiving TD -- run his routes, whether the ball went his way or not.
There are only a few receivers shouldering the expectations facing Jones ( Antonio Brown is certainly another one). Sure, he opened his 2018 campaign with 169 receiving yards, but he basically hasn't been able to get in the end zone since Kyle Shanahan left for San Francisco. A player this talented and dominant should be able to hit paydirt when the Falcons are in the red zone more than he did last season: five receptions (one TD) on 18 targets. On Thursday against the Eagles, he had three targets and came out with zero points. Atlanta's red-zone woes don't all fall on Julio, though.
Thomas' catch radius is just as big as Jones', if not bigger, and he constantly surprises me with what he's able to do. His 16 receptions on Sunday are the most by a player on Kickoff Weekend in NFL history, surpassing the previous record of 15 by the guy who's below him on my list.
Solid day for Allen as he once again proved to be one of Philip Rivers' more reliable receivers. Targeted 11 times, Allen hauled in eight catches for 108 receiving yards and a score.
JUST OUTSIDE THE TOP 15
Le'Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers: No matter when Bell reports, he'll be a top-three back. But until then, I can't put him in my top 15.
Kareem Hunt, RB, Kansas City Chiefs: He had just 16 carries for 49 yards and finished the game without a reception (the first time in his career that's happened). He still sits on the outside, because the second-year back led the NFL in rushing yards a season ago.
Jared Goff, QB, Los Angeles Rams: After finishing in my top 10 at the end of last season, Goff continued to impress Monday night (he completed 18 of 33 passes for 233 yards, two TDs, zero INTs and a 97.2 passer rating). With good decision-making and poise in the pocket, he'll likely continue to improve yet again in his third season.